Our lifetime is made up of about 600 million moments. A moment lasts for 3 seconds. According to behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman each of us has both an experiencing self and a remembering self. Our experiencing self is in the present actually living through those 600 million moments and our remembering self keeps score and composes the story of our life around the moments we choose to remember. My cousin Al suggested I check out the work of Daniel Kahneman after I posted a blog called Writing Is the Way I Think and Remember
I watched a TED talk by Kahneman and now I know why Al made that recommendation. When I write this blog my remembering self is at work choosing how I will compose the story of my life. Kahneman says we have a choice about how we will remember an experience. If we go on a holiday for example and choose to remember only the one terrible day where everything went wrong that can color our memory of the entire holiday and perhaps prevent us from going on another one. But if we choose instead to remember the high points of the holiday then we will label our trip a success and be ready to set off on another one in the future.
Zip Lining in Costa Rica
On our trip to Costa Rica in 2016 for example I wrote 45 blog posts. Those posts represent the efforts of my remembering self. I wrote about being terrified, having a horrible day where everything went wrong, and our trip being delayed by fourteen hours, but I realized as I re-read my posts that somehow I managed to turn even those bad experiences into positive ones in the way I wrote about them.
On a gourmet sailing trip
I also wrote about seeing an extremely rare bird, a gourmet sail and memorable hikes. So while there were some bad things that happened on our trip my remembering self turned the holiday into a good one which made us ready to set off for Iceland and Germany in 2017.
Kahneman says our experiencing self is actually a stranger to us and it is the remembering self we know. It is our remembering self that decides upon reflection whether our relationships are worthwhile, whether our careers are rewarding, whether our passions are enjoyable, whether a trip is fun. There is a difference Kahneman says between living a happy life and being happy about your life.
Thanks cousin Al for recommending the research of Kahneman. It is thought-provoking, a bit disconcerting, but also empowering because in many ways it puts the onus for living happily on us.
Last week a series of devotionals I had written for the Rejoice magazine were published. Most of them were about the story of Joseph’s imprisonment and eventual release from jail in Genesis 41.
Joseph interprets the dreams of a fellow prisoner who was a cupbearer for the Pharaoh. Joseph requests the cupbearer remember him after his prison release. Unfortunately he forgets about Joseph for two years. It isn’t till the Pharoah is looking for someone to interpret his dreams that Joseph springs to mind and the cupbearer recalls his promise to try to help Joseph. Penitent about his neglect of Joseph he says in Genesis 41:9 “I remember my faults today.” Then he quickly facilitates Joseph’s release from prison.
The cupbearer reminded me of some of my experiences in Germany last Christmas. It is clear many people in that country are still living with the reality of “remembering faults” from World War II.
Alma, a friendly, talkative woman in her early forties was our Nuremberg city tour guide. She apologized so abjectly and so often on behalf of her country, I felt sorry for her. As this warm and lively woman showed us the places where Nazi war criminals had been tried and hung, her penitent and self deprecating comments demonstrated the burden ‘remembering the faults’ of parents and grandparents has placed on a subsequent generation in Germany.
In the city of Frankfurt the ‘remembering faults’ took on a more concrete form of apology. Artist Gunter Demnig has created ‘stumbling stones’, gold stones engraved with Holocaust victims names. These replace the regular sidewalk stone outside the last known residences of Holocaust victims. Demnig hopes pedestrians will ‘stumble’ over the gold stones, look down, read the Holocaust victims’ names and remember them. It’s his way of ‘remembering the faults’ of his country and apologizing.
In the city of Mainz artist Marc Chagall has created a series of stained glass windows in St. Stephens’ church. Depicting scenes from the Old Testament Chagall made them after World War II to help Jews and Christians ‘remember the faults’ of the Holocaust but also to remember what they have in common and work at reconciliation.
Remembering our faults and successes can be both a positive and negative thing. I reflected on that in my book review of Noah’s Compass a couple of days ago. After reading it my sister Kaaren suggested I listen to a TED talk by Daniel Kahneman in which he expands on the riddle of experience and memory. It is worth checking out and provides some interesting insights into how memory and happiness are linked.
Another post about memory………..
The Constructed Mennonite